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13 thoughts on outlier success

This recent post by Sam Altman (of Y Combinator) on how to achieve outlier success was just passed around our office. And it’s so fucking good that I decided to regurgitate it here on the blog by listing all 13 of his thoughts along with some of his most salient points. All of the words below are his (not mine), but most of his words are missing. I wanted to make a more condensed version so that you could easily print out this post and affix it to your desk. I am about to do that. Thanks for a great post, Sam.


1. Compound yourself

I think the biggest competitive advantage in business—either for a company or for an individual’s career—is long-term thinking with a broad view of how different systems in the world are going to come together. One of the notable aspects of compound growth is that the furthest out years are the most important. In a world where almost no one takes a truly long-term view, the market richly rewards those who do.

2. Have almost too much self-belief

Self-belief is immensely powerful. The most successful people I know believe in themselves almost to the point of delusion. Cultivate this early. As you get more data points that your judgment is good and you can consistently deliver results, trust yourself more. If you don’t believe in yourself, it’s hard to let yourself have contrarian ideas about the future. But this is where most value gets created.

3. Learn to think independently

Entrepreneurship is very difficult to teach because original thinking is very difficult to teach. School is not set up to teach this—in fact, it generally rewards the opposite. So you have to cultivate it on your own.

4. Get good at “sales”

All great careers, to some degree, become sales jobs. You have to evangelize your plans to customers, prospective employees, the press, investors, etc. This requires an inspiring vision, strong communication skills, some degree of charisma, and evidence of execution ability.

Getting good at communication—particularly written communication—is an investment worth making. My best advice for communicating clearly is to first make sure your thinking is clear and then use plain, concise language.

5. Make it easy to take risks

It’s often easier to take risks early in your career; you don’t have much to lose, and you potentially have a lot to gain. Once you’ve gotten yourself to a point where you have your basic obligations covered you should try to make it easy to take risks. Look for small bets you can make where you lose 1x if you’re wrong but make 100x if it works. Then make a bigger bet in that direction.

6. Focus

Once you have figured out what to do, be unstoppable about getting your small handful of priorities accomplished quickly. I have yet to meet a slow-moving person who is very successful.

7. Work hard

I think people who pretend you can be super successful professionally without working most of the time (for some period of your life) are doing a disservice. In fact, work stamina seems to be one of the biggest predictors of long-term success.

8. Be bold

If you are making progress on an important problem, you will have a constant tailwind of people wanting to help you. Let yourself grow more ambitious, and don’t be afraid to work on what you really want to work on.

9. Be willful

People have an enormous capacity to make things happen. A combination of self-doubt, giving up too early, and not pushing hard enough prevents most people from ever reaching anywhere near their potential.

10. Be hard to compete with

Most people do whatever most people they hang out with do. This mimetic behavior is usually a mistake—if you’re doing the same thing everyone else is doing, you will not be hard to compete with.

11. Build a network

Great work requires teams. Developing a network of talented people to work with—sometimes closely, sometimes loosely—is an essential part of a great career. The size of the network of really talented people you know often becomes the limiter for what you can accomplish.

12. You get rich by owning things

The biggest economic misunderstanding of my childhood was that people got rich from high salaries. Though there are some exceptions—entertainers for example —almost no one in the history of the Forbes list has gotten there with a salary.

You get truly rich by owning things that increase rapidly in value.

13. Be internally driven

The most successful people I know are primarily internally driven; they do what they do to impress themselves and because they feel compelled to make something happen in the world. After you’ve made enough money to buy whatever you want and gotten enough social status that it stops being fun to get more, this is the only force I know of that will continue to drive you to higher levels of performance.


Photo by NordWood Themes on Unsplash


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